It’s not about experimentation. It’s about launching and doing. We’ve got a lot of students doing those things already, but they don’t have a physical space on campus to do it. —Troy D'Ambrosio, executive director of the Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute
SALT LAKE CITY — University of Utah students will soon have an on-campus location to collaborate and turn their ideas into new businesses.
University officials Tuesday announced the donation of $12 million from philanthropist and alumnus Pierre Lassonde to be used in the construction of a $45 million residence facility that doubles as an entrepreneurial garage space for student to meet together, build prototypes and launch companies.
"It’s not about experimentation. It’s about launching and doing," said Troy D'Ambrosio, executive director of the Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute. "We’ve got a lot of students doing those things already, but they don’t have a physical space on campus to do it."
Lassonde, who earned a Master of Business Administration from the University of Utah before embarking on a successful career in mining, said the building will be "the bee's knees," providing iconic on-campus housing and a unique venue for students of all disciplines to come together and see their ideas realized.
"That building will essentially create what we hope to be like a nuclear reaction of entrepreneurship," he said.
Construction of the 148,000-square-foot facility, which will be called the Lassonde Studios, will begin this fall with a scheduled opening for the 2016-17 school year. It will be comprised of 412 residential units and a 20,000-square-foot workspace open to all students on campus.
Lassonde previously donated $13 million to the university to establish the Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute, a cross-disciplinary program that encourages students to learn through the real-world experience of launching products into the market.
"For the most part, what we’re trying to do here is teach by doing," Lassonde said. "So we tell the student, 'If you have an idea, we’ll help you along in the process.'"
Since its creation in 2001, the Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute has grown to include roughly 5,000 students and has contributed to the University of Utah being ranked by the Princeton Review as a top-25 school for entrepreneurship for the past three years.
"To me, it’s been the most gratifying philanthropic venture that I’ve ever had," Lassonde said. "The satisfaction that I get out of that is unbelievable."
D'Ambrosio said that in speaking with students, the faculty learned there was a need for a convenient on-campus location for students to meet and collaborate on projects.
"That interaction is incredibly important," he said.
The Lassonde Studios and the continued support of Lassonde, D'Ambrosio said, will be instrumental in continuing the success of the institute and preparing students for a life of entrepreneurship after their time at the university ends.
"We’ve gotten ourselves into a top-25 program, and I think this takes us to an entirely different level," he said.
In a prepared statement, University of Utah President David Pershing said the new facility will be the first of its kind and will provide hands-on learning experience to students.
"This building is the materialization of Pierre Lassonde's visionary approach to student innovation and entrepreneurism," Pershing said. "His enormous generosity and this unique building will make the University of Utah the best place in the country to be a student entrepreneur."